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Leibniz, Papin and the Steam Engine:

A Case Study Of
British Sabotage of Science

by Philip Valenti

Printed in the American Almanac, 1996; First version published in Fusion Magazine, December, 1979.


An 1883 illustration depicting Denis Papin attempting to sail his steam-powered boat on the Weser River, assailed by fearful boatmen and shippers in 1707.

The early history of the invention of the steam engine shows without doubt that the British Royal Society, including Isaac Newton personally, deliberately prevented the industrial and naval applications of steam power for nearly 100 years. In fact, the Royal Society was so intent on burying Denis Papin's 1690 invention of a paddle-wheel-driven steamship, worked out in collaboration with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, that it stole his work, and created a mythical story of how two British "Newtonian" heroes, Savery and Newcomen, invented the steam engine, for the sole purpose of raising water from coal mines- a myth that has persisted in the history books until today.

As we shall demonstrate, Leibniz and Papin developed the steam engine based upon a scientific hypothesis concerning the nature of the Universe, elaborated by Leibniz in such "metaphysical" writings as his Monadology. The fact that modern technology emerged as a result of a purely philosophical conception, as opposed to Newton's logical/empirical ideology and his hatred of all hypotheses (other than his own), is what the British Royal Society, and its epigones, have sought to suppress.

The French Academy of Sciences

The project of discovering and perfecting a new source of power capable of effecting a dramatic human advance, was first initiated as a directed national effort by Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), the minister of the young French King Louis XIV.

In 1666, Colbert established the Academy of Sciences at Paris for this purpose, recruiting the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) as its first president. Huygens's proposed 1666 program included "research into the power of gunpowder of which a small portion is enclosed in a very thick iron or copper case. Research also into the power of water converted by fire into steam," as well as experiments with vacuum pumps, wind-powered engines, and the communication of force by the collision of bodies.

In 1672, Huygens acquired two young students and collaborators: German diplomat Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1714), and Denis Papin (1647- 1712?), a medical doctor introduced into the Academy by Madame Colbert. Within a year, Huygens and his new colleagues had successfully modified the von Guerike air pump into an engine capable of transforming the force of exploding gunpowder into useful work.


Huygens proposed to create a vacuum within a cylinder under a piston, by exploding a charge of gunpowder at the cylinder's base (see Figure 1). After the air was expelled through two valves fitted with leather collars, the collars collapsed, preventing air from reentering the cylinder. The pressure of the atmosphere then pushed the piston downwards into the cylinder, the motion of the piston being applied to perform work.

After successfully demonstrating a model gunpowder engine to Colbert, Huygens wrote:

"The violent action of the powder is by this discovery restricted to a movement which limits itself as does that of a great weight. And not only can it serve all purposes to which weight is applied, but also in most cases where man or animal power is needed, such as that it could be applied to raise great stones for building, to erect obelisks, to raise water for fountains or to work mills to grind grain .... It can also be used as a very powerful projector of such a nature that it would be possible by this means to construct weapons which would discharge cannon balls, great arrows, and bomb shells .... And, unlike the artillery of today these engines would be easy to transport, because in this discovery lightness is combined with power.

"This last characteristic is very important, and by this means permits the discovery of new kinds of vehicles on land and water.

"And although it may sound contradictory, it seems not impossible to devise some vehicle to move through the air ...."

While Papin advanced Huygens's work with improved engineering designs, Leibniz proceeded, in deliberate fashion, to discover and develop the science of dynamics, and its mathematical tool, the Calculus.

Leibniz wrote that in his youth, he freed himself from "the yoke of Aristotle," rejecting scholasticism in favor of the materialist notion of "atoms and the void." Accepting Descartes's notion of matter as mere passive "extension", Leibniz attempted to work out a complete physical theory in his 1670 New Physical Hypotheses. However, he found that the assumption of a passive, inert matter, whose essence consists in merely taking up space, resulted in absurdities.

Consider the case, he wrote, of a small body, A, moving in a straight line with velocity V. Suppose that A encounters a much larger body, B, at rest. Leibniz concluded, that since there is nothing in the concept of mere extension to account for inertia, the body A will carry the body B along with it, without losing any of its velocity:

"This is a consequence which is entirely irreconcilable with experiments.... All of this shows that there is in matter something else than the purely Geometrical, that is, than just extension and bare change. And in considering the matter closely, we perceive that we must add to them some higher or metaphysical notion, namely, that of substance, action, and force." [emphasis in original]
As opposed to the Newtonian dogma of "hard atoms" interacting in the "vacuum" of empty space, Leibniz proposed to study the supposedly "impenetrable" interior of things (much as 20th century scientists have explored the interior of the atom), thus leading to the discovery of new and greater sources of power.

This project led Leibniz to discover the grounds for universal progress, and the basis for a new science -- dynamics. For Leibniz, matter cannot be divided linearly, like marks on a ruler, but rather in a manner suggestive of the Riemannian conception of nested manifolds, or "Worlds within Worlds." Thus, Leibniz develops his own concept of "infinite divisibility" in the Monadology:

"Each portion of matter is not only divisible ad infinitum, as the ancients recognized, but also each part is actually endlessly subdivided into parts, of which each has some motion of its own; otherwise it would be impossible for each portion of matter to express the whole universe.

"66. Whence we see that there is a world of creatures, of living beings, of animals, of entelechies, of souls, in the smallest particle of matter.

"67. Each portion of matter may be conceived of as a garden full of plants, and as a pond full of fishes. But each branch of the plant, each member of the animal, each drop of its humors is also such a garden or such a pond.

"68. And although the earth and air which lies between the plants of the garden, or the water between the fish of the pond, is neither plant nor fish, they yet contain more of them, but for the most part so tiny as to be imperceptible to us.

"69. Therefore there is nothing fallow, nothing sterile, nothing dead in the universe, no chaos, no confusion except in appearance ...."

Such an endless subdivision, Leibniz said, can account for the "perpetual and very free progress of the whole universe":
Even if many substances have already reached great perfection, nevertheless on account of the infinite divisibility of the continuum, there always remain in the depths of things slumbering parts which must yet be awakened and become greater and better, and, in a word, attain a better culture. And hence progress never comes to an end. [emphasis added]

The Development of Dynamics

Equipped with a matter containing unlimited resources ("slumbering parts which must yet be awakened"), Leibniz transcended the science of mechanics that had dominated Western thinking since Archimedes. Where mechanics pertained to the passive effects of ancient machines-- the lever, pulley, inclined plane, etc.-- dynamics was conceived as the science of the active, living force (vis viva, or kinetic energy) of "violent actions" - like the explosion of gunpowder, and rapid expansion of high pressure steam:
"The ancients, so far as is known, had conceived only a science of inactive force, which is commonly referred to as Mechanics, dealing with the lever, the windlass, the inclined plane pertinent to the wedge and screw though there is discussion of the equilibrium of fluids and of similar problems; only the effort or resistance of bodies and not the impetus they have acquired through their action, is discussed ....

"For I here refer not to any effect, but to one produced by a force which completely expends itself and may therefore be called violent; such is not the case with a heavy body moving on a perfectly horizontal plane and constantly preserving the same force; this is a harmless sort of effect, so to speak, which we can also calculate by our method, but it is not the one we wish to consider now."

Since it is limited to the study of "harmless sorts of effects," mechanics considers the total absolute force of bodies acted upon by the ancient machines, as directly proportional to the acquired velocity, or F = mv. In contrast, Leibniz considered the equivalence of the kinetic energy of a heavy body falling from a given height (violent action), to the work required to raise it to that height, and determined that the live force of a body in motion is directly proportional to the square of the velocity; that is, F (proportional to) mv².

Leibniz's practical goal became to harness the most violent actions, for the purpose of advancing the material conditions of man. By applying the law of the conservation of vis viva to maximize the conversion of the kinetic energy of such actions into useful work, Leibniz envisioned mastering the direct force of explosions to power ships, carriages, airplanes, and factories. In contrast, how could a scientific establishment possibly invent anything useful while insisting, as the British Royal Society did throughout this period, that one's preference between measuring force by mv or mv² is simply a matter of personal taste, the consequence of a mere semantic quibble?

From the beginning of his study of the matter, Leibniz had insisted on the practical implications of his dynamics, particularly the issue of mv² versus mv, for the construction of machines and the perfection of technology. He wrote in 1695:

These things are not worthless to consider, nor are they quibblings over words, for they are of the greatest importance in comparing machines and motions. For example, if power is obtained from water or animals or from some other cause, by which a weight of 100 pounds is kept in constant motion so that within a fourth of a minute it can be made to complete a circle of 30 feet diameter, but someone else maintains that a weight of 200 pounds can in the same time complete half the circle with less expenditure of power, his calculation seems to yield a gain; but you ought to know that you are being deceived and getting only half the power ....
By 1675, the impact of the reactionary shift in the policies of Louis XIV, which began with the French invasion of Holland in 1672, reached Colbert's Academy. The result was a forced exodus of Protestant scientists. Leibniz left Paris reluctantly to accept a post as librarian in Hanover, while Papin left for England.

Papin's Early Inventions


By 1680, Papin had made a major breakthrough toward controlling highly compressed steam, in the form of his "New Digester for softening Bones, etc." a steam pressure cooker. This device consisted of a cylinder with thick walls (as prescribed by Huygens in his 1666 program), in which was enclosed water along with bones, tough meat, and so forth. The whole device was then placed on a fire to cook (see Figure 2).

Although Papin's immediate motive was, as he wrote to Huygens, "to relieve poverty, and to get wholesome and agreeable foods from things that we ordinarily reject as useless," his digester was also a major advance toward the steam engine, because of a totally new feature -the safety valve. This allowed Papin safely to contain pressure many times that of the atmosphere and greater than any pressure previously controlled, limited only by the strength of the cylinder.

In 1687, Papin unveiled a new invention to transmit power pneumatically, in order to develop a means of spreading industrialization to areas where water power was not available. Papin proposed erecting two sets of pumps- one set operated by a water wheel, connected by airtight pipes to another set placed in a neighboring town or suburb. Power would be transmitted by the alternate suction and pressure exerted by the first set of pumps (see Figure 3). This idea was hotly opposed in the Royal Society, and Papin left England to accept a chair of mathematics at the University of Marburg in Hesse, bordering Hanover.

In 1690, Papin published an historic article in the Acta Eruditorum of Leipsig, "A New Method of Obtaining Very Great Moving Powers at Small Cost," where he proposed using the power of expanding steam to operate a piston/cylinder engine. In the new invention, steam replaced the gunpowder charge of Huygens's cylinder, creating a more complete vacuum under the piston, and thereby taking advantage of the full force of atmospheric pressure (Figure 4).


Papin's concept was appropriated in toto in the Newcomen engine more than 20 years later. However, although Papin mentioned in passing the utility of his invention to "draw water or ore from mines," his article featured a lengthy and detailed discussion of the application of steam power to propelling ships equipped with paddlewheels: "So, no doubt, oars fixed into an axis could be most conveniently driven round by my tubes, by having the rods of the pistons fitted with teeth, which would force round small wheels, toothed in like manner, fastened to the axis of the paddles. It would only be requisite that three or four tubes should be applied to the same axis, by which means its motion could be continued without interruption." [Figure 5]. Papin recognized the problem inherent in such atmospheric engines. Since the source of power is not the steam itself, but the pressure of the atmosphere, the only means of increasing power is to increase the diameter of the cylinders:

The principal difficulty, therefore, consists in finding the manufactory for easily making very large tubes.... And for preparing that, this new machine ought to supply no small inducement, in as much as it very clearly shows that such very large tubes can be most advantageously employed for several important purposes.

The Leibniz-Papin Collaboration


Papin began to tackle the problem of "making very large tubes" by studying the means of refining ores more efficiently, and of manufacturing cylinders with appropriately smooth surfaces,i.e., to create the appropriate MACHINE TOOLS which would allow him to realize his ideas. This led him to the invention of an improved furnace capable of reaching higher temperatures with a more efficient consumption of fuel. Papin used another of his inventions, the Hessian bellows, to generate a forceful down-draft in his furnace, thereby eliminating smoke and allowing a complete burn (see Figure 6).

By 1695, Papin had adapted this hotter furnace to the rapid production of high-pressure steam, by constructing the furnace so that the fire surrounded the water, allowing the maximum surface area of water to be heated directly.

With this discovery, Papin was prepared to initiate a qualitative technological advance -not a linear extrapolation from his 1690 results, such as building larger atmospheric engines, but a proposal to directly harness the violent force of the expanding steam.

In a letter dated April 10, 1698, Papin apologized to Leibniz for not having written sooner, and explained that a new project, commissioned by his employer, the Landgrave of Hesse, had taken up most of his time:

Monsgr. le Landgrave formed a new plan, very worthy of a great Prince, to attempt to discover where the salt in salty springs comes from. To reach the bottom of this, it would be very advantageous to be able to easily draw out a great quantity of water to a considerable height. I've made many tests to try to usefully employ the force of fire to this task; some succeeded so well that I was persuaded that this force could be applied to things much more important than raising water. Consequently, I've given myself totally to this work, knowing the great difficulties always to be met with in such enterprises and which can't be overcome without an extraordinary diligence. I'm presently having a new furnace built of which I've spoken to you before .... I'm building it simply to make certain large retorts of forged iron which will be very useful to produce the great effects that I expect from the force of fire. For this furnace I've also built a large Hessian bellows more perfect than those I've made before. And thus one thing leads to another.... [emphasis added].
In his reply four days later, Leibniz asked if Papin's method of raising water
"is based on the principle of rarefaction which you published before, or if it is based on some other principle; I also have a thought about it, but I want to make a little test of it in order to consult you on its performance."
Papin's historic answer follows (July 25,1698):
"The method in which I now use fire to raise water rests always on the principle of the rarefaction of water. But I now use a much easier method than that which I published. And furthermore besides using suction, I also use the force of the pressure which water exerts on other bodies when it expands. These effects are not bounded, as in the case of suction. So I am convinced that this discovery if used in the proper fashion will be most useful .... For myself I believe that this invention can be used for many other things besides raising water. I've made a little model of a carriage which is moved forward by this force: And in my furnace it shows the expected result. But I think that the unevenness and bends in large roads will make the full use of this discovery very difficult for land vehicles; but in regard to travel by water I would flatter myself to reach this goal quickly enough if I could find more support than is now the case .... It gave me much joy to find that you also have some plans to put the moving force of fire to use, and I strongly hope that the little test you told me of succeeded to your satisfaction [emphasis added].
Leibniz's concern, however, was much greater than simply using the "force of fire" to propel ships and carriages. He saw in Papin's work the unique experiment capable of irrefutably establishing the truth of his dynamical science, as well as advancing that science, by the process of applying its principles to the measurement of the thermodynamic efficiency of Papin's machines. This is the "little test" referred to in the letters above.

Leibniz wrote to Papin (July 29,1698):

"I understand very well that the force of expanding water will do much more than air pressure will do when the steam is condensed, and this is exactly what I have thought as well in regard to gunpowder .... But in regard to water the strain of its expansion will be less violent, [so] it would be good to see if there aren't other fluids which would be even better than water. But water has the advantage that it costs nothing, and is available everywhere. My plan would be to do a test to discover if expanding water can usefully raise more than a column of air. But I lack workers here, and I'm too distracted .... But I'm now very glad to find out that you've already made the relevant experiment, and that therefore you know approximately what the force of the steam is relative to the heat and to time [emphasis added]."
Papin replied with a progress report on the construction of his engine, promising that once it was completed:
"I will try also to make observations on The degree of heat [chaleur] required to make a given effect with a given quantity of water. But up to the present all that I've been able to do, by the expansion of the steam, is to raise water to 70 feet, and to observe that a small increase in the degree of heat is capable of greatly augmenting the magnitude of the effect. And this convinces me that if these machines are perfected so that very great degrees of heat can be used, one will be able to create a greater effect with a pound of water than with a pound of gunpowder [emphasis added]."

Vis Viva Versus Mechanics

Consider the implications of the Papin-Leibniz discussion once the word effect is translated to the modern term WORK. Both Leibniz and Papin agreed that the useful work performed by a heat engine, was to be measured by the height to which it could raise a given quantity of water. In his dynamics, Leibniz had used the example of the equivalence of the work required to raise a heavy body a given height, to the vis viva acquired by the body in falling from that height. Whereas in the case of the falling body, the vis viva is measured by the body's velocity, Leibniz proposed to measure the vis viva of expanding steam by its temperature. Applying the principle of the conservation of vis viva, Leibniz developed the following sort of relation:
vis viva consumed by machine = useful work (height a given quantity of water is raised) + heat lost in overcoming friction + heat lost to superfluous cooling + . . . [other inefficiencies]

With this sort of analysis, Leibniz was prepared to compare the thermodynamic efficiencies of heat engines by measuring "the degree of heat required to make a given effect." This also led him to the formulation of his unique experiment: demonstrating that steam can "raise more than a column of air", i.e., that the direct power of expanding steam is greater than mere atmospheric pressure.

Consider the case of Papin's 1690 steam engine. Here the atmospheric pressure alone, considered as a "column of air" resting on the cylinder, is responsible for the motion of the piston. The role of the expanding steam is simply to raise the piston back to the top of the cylinder; that is, in Leibniz's phrase, "to raise a column of air." Then, the condensed steam leaves a vacuum in the cylinder, and atmospheric pressure pushes the piston downward once again.

Leibniz proposed to demonstrate that the direct force of expanding steam, unlike mere suction, is unbounded that it can "raise more than a column of air" (Aug. 28, 1698):

"There is nothing which merits development more than the force of expansion [la dilation]; if one objects that expanded water can do no more than raise a cylinder of air, and that the stronger it [steam] is the higher it [cylinder of air] is raised, and that therefore it is sufficient to use the weight of the falling cylinder -I reply that this higher elevation requires more time, allowing the steam to gradually cool, than a quicker elevation of a heavier weight. Thus, either force is lost, or more fire must be used [emphasis added]."
Clearly at issue in this "little test" is the validity of the mechanical world view, that threatened to impose itself on emerging technology. Was steam power to be constrained to act passively, slowly pushing and pulling weights like some grotesque Rube Goldberg type of lever or pulley, or was it to be freed in all its "violence"- maximum vis viva-- to effect a qualitative human advance?

From this dynamical point of view, in fact, Leibniz was by no means convinced that expanding steam was the optimum source of power for the new technology. For him, even expanding steam was not sufficiently violent or rapid in its action, compared, for example, to exploding gunpowder or, as he suggests elsewhere, to the combustion of alcohol. He argued as well for further work in applying the force of highly compressed air, pointing out its advantages for building lighter and more portable engines for vehicles.

The Savery Hoax

Source: Abraham Wolf, A History of Science, Technology and Philosophy iin the 16th and 17th Centuries (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1935)

Despite the publicity given to Papin's invention, the British Parliament awarded an exclusive patent for "Raising Water by the Impellent Force of Fire" to one Thomas Savery, variously described as a "sea captain" and a "military engineer." The terms of the patent meant that any steam- powered device Papin might invent in England would come under the control of Savery.

Although news of Savery's patent reached Germany by 1699, it was not until 1704 that Leibniz, via "Hanoverian envoys" in London, was able to acquire some sort of description of Savery's device. Leibniz forwarded a sketch of the English "engine" to Papin, along with an evaluation of its capabilities. Based on further intelligence reports from his envoys, Leibniz concluded that Savery's device could not work in full size.

Savery's "engine" consists of a chamber connected by a pipe to a source of water below, and by another pipe to a separate boiler. Steam enters the chamber from the boiler; cold water is poured on the chamber, condensing the steam, thus creating a vacuum and drawing water up the pipe from below. The steam enters the chamber again, this time for the purpose of pushing the raised water out of the chamber, and up another pipe. The steam is then forced to condense once again, creating a vacuum, and sucking more water up from below, renewing the cycle (see Figure 7).

For Leibniz and Papin, study of Savery's design provided a unique opportunity to apply and improve their new thermodynamic principles, since Savery was proposing precisely the sort of containment of steam power, within the conceptual and technological boundaries of mechanics, against which Leibniz had warned.

Papin wrote to Leibniz, describing experiments in which he had discovered that, using Savery's design, an increase in the temperature of the steam actually resulted in a decrease of the work performed (July 23,1705):

I am persuaded that it will be useless to try to push water to great heights by the immediate pressure of steam: Because when the expanded steam strongly applies itself against the cold water, as is necessary to make it rise to a great height, it isn't possible to conserve the force of the steam; but it is immediately condensed by the coldness of the water. And the hotter the steam is, the more it violently pushes the valve, in such a way that the valve, being pushed as well by the spring which is behind, causes the water to become very agitated. The water thus agitated is much more likely to cool off a lot of steam than when its surface remains smooth. Thus I firmly believe that this is the reason which makes the elevation of the water decrease when the heat increases ....

I therefore believe that the best is to do it so that the steam doesn't directly touch the water, but that it pushes it only by the mediation of a piston which is quickly heated, and which consequently only condenses a little steam. And the surface of the piston which touches the steam always stays the same, the new steam which frequently reaches it easily maintains it in a degree of heat all the more great as the steam is hot. Thus there is no fear that the machine's effect will fail to be augmented in proportion to the increase in heat. Experiment has well confirmed my conjecture....

And the more I go forward, the more I wonder at how a small quantity of wood is capable of furnishing such force.... But... it would be desirable to work at that with more heat than made [now]: seeing principally that the use of this invention isn't limited to raising water, but that it could be applied very well to vehicles and to many other things where force is needed."

Leibniz fully approved of Papin's successful application of his thermodynamics, advising him not to take Savery's claims of success too seriously (Aug. 15,1705):
I am delighted that your fire engine advances so well, because when it is brought to perfection, I consider that it will be very useful. Also, it would be a mere trifle if only one-third of the expense would be saved, as the English author believed, since this advantage would be easily absorbed by other inconveniences which such a great alteration of machines would attract. It is very reasonable also to believe that too diffuse steam applied directly to cold water will condense and lose its force. Consequently, it is better to keep them self-contained [renfermees].
According to the Royal Society myth, this sort of reasoning about the steam engine was not supposed to have occurred until about 1769, when James Watt recognized the problem of loss of force because of superfluous cooling of the steam, and invented a separate condenser. Watt was motivated in this invention by the knowledge that the Newcomen engine would operate much more efficiently, if its cylinder was kept constantly hot, while the condenser was kept constantly cold; that is, "it is better to keep them [steam and cold water] self-contained."

In effect, Savery proposed to doom steam to play the role of the ancient horse-driven windlass (hoist) and pulley, slowly pulling water up one pipe and pushing it out of another, with one significant difference - Savery's "fire engine" was much more expensive.

Savery's fraud was recognized as such by crafty miners, and his engine was used mostly to raise water for the fountains of wealthy aristocrats. As even the British historian A. Wolf admits, "It was costly and dangerous, so the mine owners stuck to horses."

Savery included an interesting comment on ships in his second chapter, "Of the Uses That This Engine May Be Applied Unto," indicating that it apparently had been made clear in England that the authorities would frown on any drastic technological advance in this area. As Robert Fulton later understood, a successful steamship could be the greatest threat to continued Anglo-Dutch commercial and naval superiority.

Savery fearfully noted, "5. I believe it may be made very useful to ships, but I dare not meddle with that matter, and leave it to the judgment of those who are the best judges of maritime affairs."

A few pages later, he added, "As for fixing the engine in ships, when they may be thought probably useful, I question not but we may find conveniency enough for fixing them."

These two timid-passages apparently constitute the totality of published British commentary on the steamship during most of the 1700s. Meanwhile, Leibniz had become fully committed to seeing a steam-powered vehicle perfected and built within his lifetime -whether a steam boat, a steam carriage, or an airplane. But while Savery and his colleagues could obstruct science at their leisure in the relative peace and quiet of Gresham College, Leibniz and Papin struggled to advance science as rapidly as possible, living in the direct line of march of an invading French army.

War Pressures

Leibniz had barely dissuaded Papin, pressured by the war situation, from accepting a Royal Society invitation to take up his old post as curator of experiments -an offer made to him, interestingly enough, just after Parliament had granted Savery his exclusive patent in 1699. If Papin had gone to England at that point, all of his experiments in steam power would have come under Savery's legal control.

The situation was so unsettled in Germany that Papin was afraid to visit Leibniz in Hanover, for fear that his family would be caught alone in a French attack. He concluded that no continued scientific progress would be possible without an end to the war. He wrote to Leibniz in 1702, describing his experiments with a ballistic air pump capable of throwing "a weight of 2 pounds to a distance of 40 feet" and designed eventually "to facilitate the capture of the strongest positions." Papin argued that this invention not only would help bring peace, but also would be the best enticement for princes and generals to support further research into steam technology.

After a year of strenuous efforts to interest the leaders of the anti- French alliance in his invention, Papin reported to Leibniz (Feb. 25,1704), "It has been possible since then to receive a reply neither from England nor from Holland; therefore all that I can conclude is that there is only some secret reason why no one wants to accept my proposal."

Leibniz continued to maintain friendly pressure on Papin throughout 1704, insisting that he resume research into applying violent force (particularly that of gunpowder) to the propulsion of ships and to carriages, if not to airplanes. Leibniz argued that such a breakthrough would have the greatest world strategical impact:

"Yet I would well counsel [you], Monsieur, to undertake more considerable things which would force everyone to give their approbation and would truly change the state of things. The two items of binding together the pneumatic machine and gunpowder and applying the force of fire to vehicles would truly be of this nature."
Papin finally agreed, and in a letter March 13, 1704 he revealed that he had already built a model paddlewheel boat "which can carry about 4,000 pounds", and that he had developed a complete theory of rowing "which can also be applied to land vehicles."

By January 1705, Papin had received Leibniz's sketch of Savery's engine. Of course, this had the expected effect on Papin's thinking, as well as on the attitude of the Landgrave of Hesse, who took a renewed interest in Papin's work. In March, a newly self-confident Papin wrote to Leibniz:

I can assure you that, the more I go forward, the more I find reason to think highly of this invention which, in theory, may augment the powers of man to infinity; but in practice I believe I can say without exaggeration, that one man by this means will be able to do as much as 100 others can do without it. All that I've done up until now has only been to discover the characteristics of this machine and the different symptoms to which it may be subject [a reference to the analysis of the thermodynamic efficiency of Savery's device discussed above-PV]. But Monseigneur from now on wants to apply it to some real use, and his Highness gave me the honor of commanding me to apply this force to turn a mill to grind wheat .... And if after the mill we can proceed to apply this invention to ships [voitures par eau], I would believe this discovery incomparably more useful than finding longitudes on the ocean, which has been sought for so long."
By the end of 1706, Papin's experiments had convinced him of the explosive strategic potential of steam technology:
"Yet it's a great shame that the things from which the Public could derive such considerable usefulness aren't impelled by heat. Because the advantages which this invention could furnish for sea-going vessels alone, without counting those of land vehicles, would be incomparably greater than all expected from the transmutation of metals."

A Genuine Steam Engine

What Papin achieved within two years of receiving Leibniz's sketch of the Savery device, was a genuine direct action steam engine capable of being immediately applied to ships. Papin's engine successfully incorporated the dynamical innovations of 40 years of research that began with the project initiated by Huygens in Colbert's Academy. This achievement is fully documented in Papin's 1707 treatise, "New Method of Raising Water by the Force of Fire," published in Latin and French at Cassel. (This booklet is available today in select university libraries because someone in France had foresight to reprint 250 copies of it in 1914.)

View enlargement


Papin's engine, shown in Figure 8, works as follows, with each step representing an innovation as a result of dynamical considerations. The engine is to be situated such that there is a constant flow of water into the pipe G. In this way, the water to be pumped enters the cylinder DD through H; the piston FF is then raised to the top of the cylinder by the weight of the water.

  1. The copper vessel AA, which Papin calls the retort, is completely enclosed in a furnace, not shown. The furnace is designed to allow the fire to completely surround the retort, with precautions made to guarantee minimum loss of heat to the outside air.

  2. The retort is supplied with a safety valve ab to allow a maximum controlled increase in steam pressure. The robinet, or spigot, E is opened, allowing the high-pressure steam to rush into the cylinder.
  3. The opening L and the receptacle II are provided to allow insertion of hot irons in order to increase the violence of the steam, which is allowed to reach a controlled maximum with attention to the second safety valve ab.

  4. The fulminating, expanding steam acts directly against the cold water through the mediation of the piston FF, arranged so that the surface of the piston encountering the steam remains hot, while the opposite surface remains relatively cold. The action of the steam on the piston forces the water out through H and up through the valve T. into the closed vessel NN. As NN fills with water, the air within NN is compressed.
  5. The compression of the air in NN is allowed to increase until the robinet at the lower right of the vessel is opened, allowing the raised water to exit forcefully through pipe XX.

  6. The resulting high-velocity jet of water encounters an improved paddlewheel, designed according to Papin's Fig. 2 (shown here in Figure 8). Papin's figure illustrates the advantages of adding blades to a mill wheel in order more completely to convert the energy of high velocity water into rotative motion.

With this design, technology entered a new, dynamic universe. In a certain sense, it represents a transition, in that modern thermodynamic principles are applied to the ancient task of turning a water wheel. However, Papin intended immediately to apply his new engine to power the model paddlewheel boat, which he had constructed three years earlier.

In the preface to his 1707 treatise, Papin gives Leibniz full credit for providing the necessary impetus to advance his experiments. In particular, Papin cites two crucial junctures -the 1698 discussions on harnessing the direct force of steam versus mere atmospheric pressure, and the 1705 description of Savery's device that Leibniz's spies procured in London.

The quality of analysis in the treatise also shows the effect of Leibniz's firm theoretical commitment to "live force", combined with Papin's repeated experimental vindications of Leibniz's dynamics over the past 40 years. Papin concludes the first chapter, describing the furnace enclosing the retort:

5. The reason which obliges us to have such a great care to augment and conserve the heat [chaleur] is because it is the heat which makes all the moving force in this machine. Because otherwise in ordinary pumps it is animals, rivers, the wind or some other thing of this nature which employs their force in order to drive the piston in the pump and expel the water, here it is only the heated steam in the retort AA which travels with violence through the pipe ABB whenever the robinet E is opened, and goes to press the piston in the pump DD. And the force of this steam is even greater the more we give it a higher degree of heat.
In chapter 3, Papin comments on the "means to augment the effect of the machine":
2. The augmentation of effect of which I have just spoken [that is, increasing the diameter of the pipes,and so on] is a little thing in comparison to that which could be obtained in augmenting the pressure in the retort AA: Because that of which I've spoken until now in order to impel [pousser] the water to 64 or 65 feet is equivalent to only two times the ordinary pressure of air: But it's certain that the pressure may be made much greater yet; with digesters or machines to cook bones, which weren't at all completely enclosed in their furnace, as is the retort M here, I sometimes achieved pressures equivalent to 11 times the pressure of air. Thus one may boldly say that the retort, being as well heated as it is and with the aid of hot irons enclosed in the pump DD, that pressures may be created much more than 6 times greater than that necessary to impel water to a height of 64 feet: and in such a case one man could create almost as much of an effect as 500 others who have only those inventions used up to the present.
As for Savery's design, Papin describes in detail in chapter 5 how the Savery device was inferior to his own "in order that there be no misjudgment in the choice that will be made between Mr. Savery's machine and this one." First, Papin notes that since the retort M is "completely in the fire, it can be heated much more promptly and at less cost than the two vessels that Mr. Savery calls boillers."

Second, Papin notes that his piston system ensures that the "steam loses none or very little of its force," compared to the condensation that occurs in the Savery device. Third, Papin describes his improvement that "allows the water to enter by its own weight into the pump DD, and not by suction" and writes, "without this correction, the inconveniences of which I've spoken about in this section would be enough to render the machine completely useless." Fourth, Papin notes the improvement of introducing hot irons to increase the "violence" of the steam. Then, "in order to incontestably prove that the piston FF is necessary to raise water to any considerable height," Papin reports that Savery's method completely failed to pump water "into air which had been a bit compressed.... Instead, a good effect is always created with the piston, even if the resistance of the compressed air in NN is 10 or 12 times greater than that which was impenetrable without the help of the piston."

Leibniz wasted no time in beginning the process of improving Papin's design. In his last published letter to Papin (Feb. 7, 1707), Leibniz not only suggested that the engine be made completely self-acting, and thus more appropriate to moving vehicles, but also proposed practical means of still further increasing the thermodynamic efficiency of the engine by the ingenious use of the so-called waste heat:

"I maintain that for stationary machines or for seagoing vessels, it will be difficult to make anything better along similar lines....

"I have a thought that perhaps will not displease you, which is to efficiently use the still-hot steam which leaves the pump when the piston is pushed up. Because it would be a great shame to lose it entirely. I imagine that in leaving it yet has much heat, and enough force to issue forth despite the outside air .... Then to make good use here of heat, otherwise superfluous, and at the same time of compressed air, in a manner which perhaps has never been used, I would make a sort of mantle or case ZZ around your vessel QN, partly filled with compressed air; and within this case I would let the steam enter in such a way that before it streams powerfully into the open air it would be between the case and the vessel. And while it warms this vessel it would as a result contribute towards the work of the compressed air contained therein. I believe that this will be a redoubling of the force .... and thus a mediocre vessel QN would make a much greater effect. Because it is already certain that heat gives as much force to ordinary air as does compression, and the same heat would give double or triple to compressed air .... The continual passage of hot steam would make this vessel extremely hot,almost as if it had been placed on a fire.

"I have always had the thought that a great effect could be made and much force placed in a small volume by means of air strongly compressed and then heated. This would be of great use for machines which must be portable.

"To say nothing of the superfluous heat of the furnace and the smoke which emerges from it which can be similarly useful among other ways by heating the water of the funnel G and of the tube H in order that the coldness of this water harms less of the heat in the pump D or in the vessel QN.... Furthermore, I have no doubt that you could, if you so desired, easily arrange that the robinets E and n are alternately open and closed by the machine without having to use a man for this."

The "Newton-Leibniz Controversy"

Although Leibniz and Papin had succeeded in bringing modern dynamical technology into being, making possible the industrial transformation of society, they were working within an increasingly aversive environment. Leibniz's persistent international efforts on behalf of what he called the "Grand Design"-- an alliance of sovereign nations for economic development through scientific and technological progress-- had brought him into increasing conflict with his employer, George Ludwig, the Elector of Hanover, and future British King George I.

Whereas George Ludwig was in the pay of the British financial oligarchy based in the City of London, his mother, the brilliant Electress Sophie, was Leibniz's dedicated philosophical protege. Until her untimely death in 1714, Sophie was next in line to become Queen of England! The massive Royal Society attack against Leibniz on the false charge of plagiarism of the Calculus from Newton, which erupted in 1711, was a politically-motivated slander campaign designed to destroy Leibniz's influence in England. Yet, the influence of Leibniz's ideas grew on the European continent, and, significantly, in America as well. [see EIR, Dec. 1, 1995, "The Anti-Newtonian Roots of the American Revolution...."]

During this period, even before the publication of his treatise, Papin had reported a sharp escalation in harassment by his unnamed enemies in Hesse. As a result, the relative tranquility of London again became attractive to him, and he resolved to go to England to demonstrate before the Court and the Royal Society the incontestable superiority of his steam engine over Savery's device.

Papin's plan was to travel to London in his paddlewheel boat, rowing it by conventional means up the Weser River, through Hanover to Bremen, and across the North Sea. Once in London with his model boat and with sufficient means to build an adequate steam pump, Papin planned to operate the world's first steam-driven ship and navigate it up the River Thames. In fact, the main reason which Papin gave to the Landgrave for his desire to leave for London, was that only such a seaport had sufficient depth to apply his engine to a ship.

In a letter to Leibniz Sept. 15, 1707, Papin reported on the first successful test of his paddlewheeler:

"At present I will tell you that the experiment of my boat was made and that it succeeded in the manner that I had hoped of it. The force of the river's current was such a little thing in comparison to the force of my oars that it was difficult to recognize that it went faster in descending the current than in climbing it. Monseigneur had the goodness to testify to me of his satisfaction in having seen such a good effect. I am persuaded that if God gives me the grace to arrive safely in London and to make vessels there of this new construction which have enough depth to apply the fire engine to give movement to oars, I am persuaded, I say, that we may produce those effects which will appear incredible to those who will not see them."
In the same letter, Papin renewed a request to Leibniz to help obtain the required permission from the Elector of Hanover for passage up the Weser. Leibniz could expect no cooperation from George, but he tried to intervene with his friends among local magistrates along the river. However, Papin got no further than Munden before encountering the ignorant opposition of the Boatmen's Guild, no doubt incited by elements of George's Court. Leibniz received the following report from an official of Munden, Sept. 27, 1707:
"Having been informed by the Doctor Papin, who, coming from Cassel, passed by this town the day before yesterday, that you are presently to be found in this Court [Berlin], I give myself the honor to advise you, Sir, that this poor man of medicine, who gave me your letter of recommendation for London, had the misfortune to lose here his little machine of a paddlewheel vessel, . . . the Boatmen of this town having had the insolence to stop him and to take from him the fruit of his toil, with which he thought to introduce himself a before the Queen of England ...."
Despite the tragic encounter with this "mob of boatmen," Papin continued on to London, only to encounter an even more vicious mob--the British Royal Society, at the time headed by president-for-life Isaac Newton, and by Newton's secretary Hans Sloane.

Royal Antiscience

When he arrived in England, Papin presented a copy of his treatise to the Royal Society along with the following proposal, recorded in the Royal Society Register, Feb. 11, 1708:
"Proposition by Dr. Papin, concerning a new invented boat to be rowed by oars, moved with heat:

" It is certain that [it] is a thing of a great consequence to be able to apply the force of fire to save the labour of man; so that the Parliament of England granted, some years ago, a patent to Esquire Savery, for an Engine he had invented for that purpose; and His Highness Charles, Landgrave of Hesse, has also caused several costly experiments to be made for the same design. But the thing may be done several ways, and the machine tryed at Cassel differs from the other in several particulars, which may afford a great difference in the quantity of the effect. It will be good, therefore, to find out clearly what can be done best in that matter, that those which will work about it may surely know the best way they are to choose. I am fully persuaded that Esquire Savery is so well minded for the public good, that he will desire as much as any body that this may be done.

" I do therefore offer, with all dutyfull respect, to make here an Engine, after the same manner that has been practised at Cassel, and to fit it so that it may be applied for the moving of ships. This Engine may be tryed for an hour and more, together with some other made after the Saveryan method. The quantity of the effect should be computed both by the quantity of water driven out of each machine, and by the height the said water could ascend to ....

" I wish I were in a condition to make the said Cassellian Engine at my own charges; but the state of my affairs does not [allow] me to undertake it, unless the Royal Society be pleased to bear the expense of the Vessel called Retort in the description printed at Cassel; but after that I will lay out what is necessary for the rest, and I will be content to lose that expense, in case the contrivance of the Landgrave Of Cassel doth not as much again as that of Esquire Savery; but in case the effect be such as I promise it, I do humbly beg that my expense, time and pains, may be paid, and I reckon this to amount to 15 pounds sterling. If the Royal Society be pleased to honor me with their commands upon such conditions, the first thing to be done is to let me see the place where the Machine must be set, and I will work for it with all possible diligence and I hope the effect will yet be much greater than I have said [emphasis in original]."

By 1708, the Royal Society had all but abandoned even the pretense of scientific inquiry, and so its attitude toward Papin's proposal (as well as others) for real technological advance was predictably negative. In Papin's case, the repeated mention of the name Leibniz in his treatise was sufficient to trigger Royal Society killer instincts.

The Transactions of the Newcomen Society, Volume 17 (1936-37), contain a succinct account of the fate of Papin's proposition:

"Papin, then at Cassel, submitted with his paper, a request for fifteen guineas to carry out experiments, but the Royal Society, like our own, did not hand out fifteen guineas at a time. Instead, the matter was referred to Savery in 1708, and in his letter of criticism turning down Papin's design there is a passage in which he damned the cylinder and piston, saying it was impossible to make the latter work because the friction would be too great! [emphasis added]"
Papin then argued for his proposal before Newton himself, who rejected it on the pretext that it would COST TOO MUCH. Papin was then stranded in England without any means of support, completely at the mercy of Newton, Sloane, and Savery, whose exclusive patent covering all conceivable "fire engines" was still in effect. Papin's 1707 "Proposition" was thus the last heard of any practical plan for a steamship or for early application of steam power, besides pumping mines, until the intervention of Benjamin Franklin's networks in England later in the century.

No record remains of Papin's subsequent activity in England besides a mere seven letters to Sloane, mostly repeated requests for money to carry out a variety of experiments. In his last letter to Sloane, Jan. 23, 1712, Papin complained that a number of his inventions presented before the Royal Society had deliberately not been registered under his name:

"So there are at least six of my papers that have been read in the meetings of the Royal Society and are not mentioned in the Register. Certainly, Sir, I am in a sad case, since; even by doing good, I draw enemies upon me. Yet for all that I fear nothing because I rely upon God Almighty."

The Newcomen Fraud


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In 1712, Papin apparently vanished without a trace-- not even a death notice. That same year, as the witchhunt against Leibniz was reaching frenzied heights in England, Thomas Newcomen suddenly appeared to build his fabled fire engine "near Dudley Castle."

Newcomen's engine was simply a scaled up atmospheric steam pump that was based completely on a combination of two of Papin's earlier ideas:(1) the use of steam to create a vacuum and drive a piston (1690); (2) the use of a lever mechanism to transmit power from one pump to another (1687).

In Newcomen's atavistic design, steam enters a cylinder under a piston from a separate boiler (see Figure 9). Cold water is poured over the cylinder or is sprayed inside of it, condensing the steam and creating a vacuum; the piston is forced downwards by atmospheric pressure. In turn, a piston rod pulls down one end of a balance beam that operates an ordinary mine pump attached to the other end of the beam, and placed down a mine shaft. Steam reenters the cylinder, merely counterbalancing atmospheric pressure; the piston is then raised back to the top of the cylinder by the weight of the water pump apparatus, and the cycle is repeated.

Compared to the level of conception and design achieved by Papin, Newcomen's "exotic lever" is manifestly primitive, and a great step backwards. Not only is the force of the engine limited to mere atmospheric pressure, and the design limited to raising water from mines, but Newcomen still insisted on alternately cooling off and heating up the same cylinder, wasting tremendous amounts of steam, and consuming massive quantities of coal. For this reason, his engine was used mainly by the owners of the coal mines themselves, who could afford the fuel.

The calculated result was a near 100-year containment of steam technology, which was overcome only by the intervention of Leibniz's intellectual heirs in America.


Chronology: Steam Power Versus The Royal Society

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